Sometimes it feels like all of the “new car scent” air fresheners in the world couldn’t make your used car feel any newer. While it’s true that the feeling of driving a fresh off the lot vehicle is tough to match when you’re shopping pre-owned (or still driving around the same model you’ve had for years), there are things you can do to make an old vehicle feel a little less used. You might not have the budget for a brand-new car, but if you have a little time and money for some thorough cleaning and a few minor upgrades, you can still get some of that new car feeling.
Step One: Clean up!
It goes without saying that a cleaner car will feel newer, and just be more pleasant to drive around in. Give your vehicle a thorough cleaning both inside and out. Giving your ride a quick hose-down in the driveway or swinging through a soccer team car wash fundraiser is all well and good, but these quick washes will be more effective in the future if you start with a thorough scrub down and some protective measures. Splurge a little and get the full treatment at your local car wash, and consider a wax. This can help protect your paint job over time, especially in the winter when the salt and sand used to treat icy roads can do damage. While you’re there, ask about vacuuming and shampooing treatments for your carpets and seats.
Many people don’t realize that the parts of your car that you can see aren’t the only parts that need cleaning. Your air conditioning system can become dirty, and even grow fungus and mold. Not only is that not a great thing for you and your passengers to be inhaling, but if your car has a lingering funky smell, that’s probably the reason. Luckily, cleaning and deodorizing your a/c is generally fairly easy. You can buy an air conditioning system deodorizer at most auto parts stores, or take your vehicle into a detailing shop to have the work done professionally. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing an air freshener to give your car a pleasant scent, but better to combine that with a clean a/c than just trying to cover up persistent odors.
Step Two: Touch up!
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned your vehicle, you might find that some imperfections can’t be fixed with soap. This doesn’t mean that you just have to live with them, though. If you have scratches or scuffs in your exterior paint, you can generally take care of them with touch-up paint pens or scratch removal systems available at auto parts stores. Plastic on your bumpers or other exterior parts faded? Easily revived with a can of spray paint (just make sure that you get outdoor paint that can handle the elements, and either remove the plastic or very carefully cover the parts of your vehicle that you don’t want paint on!) Another aspect of your car’s exterior that could probably use attention is your headlights. If your headlights are scratched, cloudy or faded, you may want to replace them, but you can also try a headlight restoration kit, which can often make a huge difference on the look and brightness of older headlights.
On the interior, replacing upholstery can be an expensive way to combat stains. However, seat covers and floor mats allow you to customize your vehicle’s look, as well as cover up unsightly marks. If your interior is in good shape, you still might want to invest in some of these. Pre-owned vehicle sales professionals with Holden Dodge say that keeping your carpets and upholstery clean and protected can have a significant impact on your vehicle’s trade-in value.
Step Three: Upgrade!
While you may not have the funds for a brand-new car at the moment, you could always upgrade small things to make your vehicle look and feel more modern. Some of our favorite easy upgrades are radios and windshield wipers. Windshield wipers should be replaced regularly anyways, and a fresh set can change the whole feeling of driving your car. While you’re at it, consider a windshield treatment, or investing in some slightly pricier wiper fluid that has one built in, which will not only repel water to increase visibility but also extend the life of your new wiper blades.
A little more expensive than a new set of wipers, a replacement radio can make all the difference in the world and bring some modern conveniences to an older car. Not only will a new radio upgrade the appearance of your dash, but graduating from a tape deck to an auxiliary or USB input will dramatically improve your in-car entertainment options. Good bye, dad’s old Beach Boys tapes, hello unlimited Spotify playlists.
New cars are a lot of fun, but sometimes they just can’t beat the personality (or the economy) of a used model. Still, driving an older car doesn’t mean that you have to put up with a dated radio or a musty smell! Follow these steps for making your used car feel like new, and be proud of your wheels, after all, they’ve been through a lot.